Daishawn

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Daishawn St. Pierre sitting on a piano bench, the piano behind him. He’s facing the camera, looking into the camera, wearing a suit and tie, his hand on his chin.

Dear Family,

Remember earlier this year when many of you so generously and graciously donated money to my family so that we could pay for the funeral expenses of my cousin Daishawn, who died in February?

Well today, Daishawn would have been 23 years old and I wanted to take this moment thank you again. We simply would not have been able to afford his services and burial if not for your kindness. That was an act of love and care beyond measure and I am eternally grateful to you for it.

I’ve never spoken publicly about what happened to Daishawn because it hurt too much to contemplate, much less write or say out loud. And further, I didn’t want to be the target of cruelty in the event someone on the impersonal Internet saw my testimony as an opportunity to strike. In the fragile state I was in at the time, I would’ve have either lashed out, matching horror for horror, or crumbled.

But I think I’m ready to talk about it now.

This is sensitive, graphic, personal content, so discretion is advised.

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My baby cousin Daishawn committed suicide.

He had been struggling psychologically and emotionally for a while. The doctors believed he might have been suffering from schizophrenia and depression. In the final months of his life, things declined so badly that he couldn’t take it anymore and ended his own life on his terms.

He planned it, apparently. He went to a gun range in Pennsylvania, where it appears you don’t need a gun permit or license to engage in target practice at a range. Days — perhaps weeks — before, he scoped out the place and observed their procedures to determine if he’d ever have any alone time in the shooting booth or if he would be supervised by gun range staff the whole time. He discovered that there was only one supervisor who watched over all booths, which meant he would have the time to commit the act.

After he understood their operating procedures, he scheduled a time to come back. He went into a booth and waited for the supervisor to inspect and then pass him by. Once the supervisor left his booth, Daishawn put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. It was all captured on the facility’s security cameras. (Only one person in my family had the strength and resolve to view it. I was not that person.)

We rushed down to Pennsylvania to the hospital where Daishawn was clinging to life. (Can you imagine that after all that, he still had a measure of will in him and that he held, however softly, onto it?) And fam — never in my life had I seen such trauma up close. Branded in my mind for the rest of my days is the image of his deconstructed form. Daishawn was one of the smartest people I have ever known in my life and I witnessed that remarkable intellect leaking from every orifice on his body. He was shattered, fam, into a trillion little pieces. I had never before seen the horror a gun could do to someone you love. It erases them, fam. In the most brutal way you can imagine, it removes them from the space for which they were reserved and leaves behind, carelessly, a red smudge in their place. All I could recognize were his hands.

When they took him off the respirator and his chest stopped moving, I felt powerless and everything inside of me collapsed. For months afterward, and even to this day, the only question I could ask myself was: Did I do enough to help him? I play life over and over again in my head and wonder that if I had said more kind words; told him to come stay with me; given him more money; spent more time with him; bought him more comic books; taken him out to eat more; showed up by surprise to check in on him while he was on his college campus; told him that I loved him more; hugged him one more time and said that whatever was wrong, he didn’t have to be ashamed to tell me because I would listen without judgment and offer him the best advice I knew how to give — would he still be alive today? Or was his decision set in stone and there was nothing anyone could have said or did to convince him otherwise?

A layer of grief coats everything in my family now. I don’t think it will ever wash away. It’s harder to breathe on some days more than others, but surprisingly, we never suffocate. What we choke on, however, is how suspicious we’ve become of each other. We point fingers and feign both superiority and innocence, looking for someone else to blame for the deep blue pain inside us that Daishawn’s death has made impossible to ignore.

He is the only person in our family who has ever committed suicide — at least in such an unmistakable and expedient way. What it made me realize is that when someone takes their own life, other, unexpected things die along with them.

That was how Daishawn died. This was how he lived:

Daishawn Ahmani St. Pierre was born on November 12, 1995 at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, to Shahaira Davy and Holdrean St. Pierre. He was baptized at St. Augustine Episcopalian Church in Brooklyn, New York, and his godparents are Melissa Y. Barnaby Hernandez and Patrick St. Pierre (who is also his uncle).

During the earliest parts of his life, Daishawn lived in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where he attended the Sparks of African Genius childcare center. There, he met a girl by the name of Jendayi. She took a liking to Daishawn and nicknamed him “Dai-Dai.” The nickname stuck and those who knew him best affectionately referred to him by that moniker for the rest of his life.

By the time he reached kindergarten, Daishawn and his mother relocated to Silver Spring, Maryland. Daishawn attended Montgomery Knolls Elementary, then Argyle Middle School — both in Silver Spring. After graduating from middle school, he entered Old Mill High School in Glen Burnie, Maryland, where his mother purchased her first home. On summer and winter breaks, he spent time with his father and the St. Pierre family, and especially enjoyed spending time with his many paternal cousins. At the age of 16, Daishawn left Maryland to live with his father in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended Northeast High School, the institution from which he graduated.

Incredibly bright and diligent, Daishawn was an honor student throughout his academic career, excelling in a wide range of subjects. He was the recipient of the President’s Education Award in Recognition of Outstanding Academic Excellence, and the African-American Festival of Academic Excellence Award. Daishawn participated in a great number of extracurricular activities, including soccer, basketball, baseball, and football. He received the Scholar/Athlete Award for achieving a 3.25 or greater grade point average during football season and the Old Mill High School Athletic Award for Junior Varsity Football. He was also a purple belt in the Korean martial arts form known as Tae Soo Do and was a member of the Tompkins Karate Association.

In his early teen years, Daishawn sought ways to sharpen his entrepreneurial spirit. Driven by his interest in video games and other forms of emergent technology, he wanted to compete with Microsoft and become the next tech giant. He developed an idea for a new game system called Dyvox. He had become so adept at working with computers that he could take one apart and put it back together effortlessly. Daishawn incorporated these aspirations into his college career. He applied to several institutions and was accepted to the University of Maryland, St. John’s University, and Temple University. He selected Temple and chose information science and technology as his major and performed as a tutor in the information technology department. He also completed internships in the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute of Health.

A kind, gentle, generous spirit, and often considered “the baby” of the family no matter how old or tall he was, Daishawn enjoyed reading comic books, listening to hip-hop music and debating the artistic merits of the genre, listening to old-school reggae music, watching films and television, and attending family gatherings. He was also a foodie. His favorite foods were home-cooked meals, especially spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and every so often, pizza. In many ways, with his humorous demeanor and charming wit, he was the glue that bonded generations of family together. Daishawn’s life reminds us that “family” is not a noun; it is a verb that calls for us to love relentlessly, even when the waters are troubled; to support one another through our struggles; to live in the light of truth; to be responsible for one another; and to regard each other with care and patience, for that is the will of God.

Daishawn’s bright light was extinguished on February 8, 2018. He will be lovingly remembered by his aforementioned mother, father, and godparents; his siblings Gabrielle C. St. Pierre, Jaren St. Pierre, Casielle St. Pierre, and Justin O. Christopher; his godbrother Christian Alcazar and godsister Chastity Hernandez; his stepmother Patricia St. Pierre; his mother’s fiancé Roberto O. Williams; his grandmothers Sandra Benjamin, Gladys Valentine, and Louise Davy; his grandfather Orlando F. Davy; his aunts Maritza Steiniger, Lorraine St. Pierre, Darline Dorvil, Mary Chevalier, and Lenice Smith; his uncles Orlando J. Davy, David Chevalier, and Anthony Steiniger; his great aunts Joan Jones, Jandel L. Benjamin, Dale Morales, Sonja Davy, and Jean Davy; his great uncle Donald Benjamin; as well as a host of cousins, other distant relatives, and friends.

It is this that I hope has earned Daishawn a safe and peaceful journey home to be one with all of creation.